In movies, as in real estate, it can be all about location, location, location.
That was true for Casey Affleck and "Out of the Furnace," arriving in theaters Friday.
He plays Rodney Baze Jr., a Braddock man who served four tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army and still can't get a job. He blames the mill for his father's failing health and, later, death and refuses to follow his stoic brother, played by Christian Bale, there.
"Just being in Braddock, it has such atmosphere that it's hard not to absorb some of it. It seeped into what I was trying to do in the performance and, I think, into the whole movie," the actor said in recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
"It's a character in the movie, that place. It's kind of a heartbreaking, tragic character, you know. It's beautiful and you can see all of the history right there in front of you. It was once this thriving little city and now it seems broken and abandoned, and it's very rare that you get a setting with so much character."
Mr. Affleck, 38, spoke to military veterans old and young to get a sense of their wartime experiences but it was Rodney's desperate turn to bare-knuckle boxing that bought him three months of training before the production. He's shirtless in the brawls, so he has no place to hide.
"It's just trial by fire, you just get thrown into it," he said, sounding surprisingly nonchalant. "You go from nothing to every single day to twice a day and hope that you can get up to speed by the time you have to shoot. When I was in Pittsburgh, there was a great boxing gym that would open very early for us because we had strange hours."
Thanks to makeup, Rodney ends up bloody, bruised and with a swollen face but apparently no actors were harmed in the making of the movie.
"The stunt men are so good that they are not going to hurt the actors. They're really in control of what they're doing, and the actors -- like me -- are usually not as good, obviously, at that stuff but they are luckily kind of incapable of hurting some of those guys.
"And those guys, they fall off buildings and stuff, so if some actor accidentally catches them on the jaw, it's not going to ruin their day."
Ideas about justice and revenge stoke "Out of the Furnace," Mr. Affleck says of the movie written by director Scott Cooper and Brad Ingelsby.
"What's great about the movie is that it doesn't jam a very carefully crafted message down your throat. I think it sort of sniffs around certain themes, it brings to the surface some ideas and those ideas are loyalty and betrayal both on a very personal level and on a national level.
"How do we take care of these people who have given their life for us, like servicemen? And are we betraying them or honoring them, about taking care of them. Are we betraying our family if we don't avenge them?"
Into that mindful mix are notions about punishment for acts accidental and intentional.
Mr. Affleck, younger brother to the next Batman, and Mr. Bale, Batman emeritus, have a believable brotherly rapport forged through talent, not time shared.
"He's just so good. Unfortunately, we didn't have that kind of time. Also, I tend to think that sometimes if you spend a week together pretending that it's bonding time, it doesn't really mean much. It all feels very forced. We spent very little time together before the movie started."
Although the actor's real-life older brother, Ben Affleck, is a two-time Oscar winner for co-writing "Good Will Hunting" and making best picture "Argo," Casey is no stranger to the Academy Awards. He was nominated for supporting actor for 2007's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," in which he played admirer turned assassin Ford opposite Brad Pitt.
Mr. Affleck's "Out of the Furnace" character, who is stop-lossed and unable to exit the military under a policy put into effect after 9/11 and expanded in 2004, is shaped by his wartime experiences and the frustration, isolation and loneliness he feels coming home.
He has an indelible moment when Mr. Bale's character orders Rodney to show him his hands and he sees the telltale bruised knuckles. "Is that the best you can do?" he asks, and the younger Baze recounts grisly scenes he witnessed overseas and lifts his shirt to show a scar.
The visible one. The invisible ones propel him to violence, danger and darkness.
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